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Author Topic: [It Was a Mutual Decision] My first game at Forge Midwest  (Read 2843 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: April 10, 2006, 02:08:20 PM »

Ralph and I arrived at the Forge Midwest get-together sometime around 7:30 Friday evening. I showed off my new little rat-game proofs and within moments, a game began. It included Julie (not jrs), Kelli, the artist guy whose name just fell out of my mind a second ago, Raven (whom I hadn't seen since 2002!), Dave (NevtheDeranged), a guy nicknamed Cloud, and Chris Moore. There might have been others too, at least a couple more people were present and interacting without directly playing. Anyone who was there, correct my memory.

It was lots of fun using the actual book for play, although technically, it was just a proof with unstuck pages. It's a cute object: paperback, 5.5" by 8.5" landscape, just like one of those cartoon books or little manuals; if you don't know what I mean, turn Elfs or Dogs or Polaris on its side and imagine it bound on the short edge. That format turns out to be really appealing and readable/flippable, and I don't know why I didn't think of this a long time ago. It has a great black-and-white cover by Keith Senkowski, with hot pink letters for the title and some graphics, and internal illos by Keith and Veronica Pare. One of them shows a real live male weenie. The internal layout and text design by Matt Snyder is kind of a cross of Sorcerer and My Life With Master.

For those who haven't seen it, this is my closet Ronnies game from the September round, using Girlfriend and Rat. it's about a breakup, divided into three acts, Before, During and After. All the men in the group collectively play the female character; all the women collectively play the male character. You can read about it in [It Was a Mutual Decision] Girlfriend + Rat.

In this latest game, the group came up with two characters: Kesty, southern belle, well, trailer-ish actually, a social worker (later specified to work with battered women); and Tobias, a bit light-in-the-loafers machine shop supervisor/manager. Important secondary characters turned out to be her mom, Valerie, and their mutual friend, Simon.

In the Before phase of the game, the point structure undergoes a solid grind-down, introducing tensions and conflicts of interests, increasing tick-marks and rattish themes if people choose - in this case, relatively few tick-marks mainly due to rolling and a minor error on my part. What's a tick-mark? Under certain dice outcomes which aren't directly linked to success/failure, characters' scores can get ticked, and enough ticks means they change into other scores. You get tick-marks, potentially, for choosing to use the black dice in the center of the table, which are a shared and potentially competitive resource.

In this game, this phase instantly produced fantastic interactions, empathy, and personal connections, among everyone playing. I knew right away this was going to be a great evening. Within each group, people bonded and reinforced one another's ideas and perspective. It was especially fun in this case, because there were only two women facing five or six guys, and they didn't know each other prior to play. Between the two groups, the first few turns produced almost constant commentary, including aknowledging stuff like "yeah, we do that" and similar, whether presented through caricature or in some cases expressing sympathy. Often, and most interesting to me at the time, was how much various people clearly appreciated how the other-gendered team collectively portrayed their understanding of the watcher's gender role.

One crucial element of play is that characters' scores may be used for rolls not only if the character acts in accordance with them (e.g., playing the character as stubborn when using the Stubborn score), but also if the character specifically fights against that tendency in their personality. The scores begin as Needy, Stubborn, and Trust, and they may transform respectively into Greedy, Cunning, and Murderous, but that same principle applies in all cases. You can use "Needy" to have the character act through desperately trying to be independent, or to allow the other person to do so.

This point is necessary to explain one of our standout moments in play, which is also notable concerning the Line that the players found it possible to play outside. This was in the Before phase, when the characters were at Kesty's mom's house and had just had particularly unpleasant spat at dinner. Now it was midnight and they were having reconciliatory sex verrrrry quietly in the fold-out bed in the living room. One of the women suggested that the conflict be about an act during sex that Tobias wants and Kesty doesn't. Discussion wandered as people shied away a little, but then returned to it and the women's team then suggested that the couple didn't want to be embarassed by staining the sheets, and didn't have tissues or whatever easily to hand. So apparently Kesty is usually disinclined to swallow semen, but at this moment (like now, gasp, now) Toby can't see any other solution.

Now. To understand what happened among our group, you must realize that although we gave off a few rueful or recognition-based snorts or smiles, this was not a gross-out or parodic moment at all. This was the first conflict in which everyone felt truly sympathetic to both characters - neither one wanted to be a bad person, and Kesty fought against being Stubborn and Tobias against being Needy. It was also important that everyone playing was over a certain age and frankly, all of us had long ago come to the knowledge that agreements about this particular act are a matter of some importance in the sex-life of a couple. This whole situation, in play among us, had nothing to do with someone trying to make the scene pornographic ... it was the opposite, emotionally. It brought us all together on the basis of shared private experience, without any of us having to disclose anything specific.

It was one of the gentlest moments of unification I've experienced in role-playing. Again, with a little hilarity at some points, but very sympathetically - when Tobias had to make a staggering run to the bathroom, we laughed but not in release or separation, more like "oh, geez" laughter. After that scene, we were not just a bunch of people individually trying out a new game, we were a team engaged in pure and simple interconnection and creation, at a level that relied wholly on trust that we were going to be honest. I just went back and re-read the Bacchus owns me thread, and yes, that's what I'm talking about too, now.

In the During phase, the scenes offer opportunities to destabilize, even devalue the relationship, and the questions include how much clinging or unknowable factors (i.e. the dice) are going to keep it together and generate baggage for later. Ever since the first few drafts got baked in playtesting, this phase is way too much fun, prompting groans and even screams of self-recognition. Here's the really fun part: both groups swiftly realize that to get out of this phase, they have to work to "lose," but every so often an issue comes up which a given group simply doesn't want to "lose" to (i.e., destabilize the relationship LIKE THAT). So they fight to win it and therefore generate more baggage for later.

This time, this phase took only three or four scenes, so the opposition dice for the final stage were relatively low. The key story element was the unbelievably slimy and manipulative Simon, whom I expected to get killed at any moment. Tick-marks stayed low strictly due to the dice themselves; people were indeed choosing them, and rat-images, real rats, and hints at were-rat status for Tobias were pretty common. The content - well, the couple breaks up primarily over work commitments, as both were rising in their jobs and feeling the pinch of long-distance relationship and time. (As subtext, here's my retrospective take: the two of them were described by friends and family as "completing each other," and as it happened, both became more like whole people on their own, and thus needed less "completing" out of a relationship.)

The After phase brought a rather nice ending, in this case! It worked really well off the "how we met" anecdote we'd made up at the start of play, and illustrated the mechanics well too - to push for a positive ending, you want both characters to succeed (i.e. not humiliate themselves), but not to get tick-marks either, so taking black dice to generate higher rolls is risky. In our case, lots of black dice got in there, but they rolled low, so no tick-marks showed up, and both characters succeeded - permitting them to end the aftermath gracefully. Tobias and Kesty managed to break the cycle of re-contact and potential humiliation, following their breakup. Just in case you're interested, the only other way to end the game is for one or both of the characters to be killed, and in this game, that requires the agency of the other character.

I'm really happy with this game. It's definitely directly inspired by My Life With Master and Breaking the Ice, and in the family of games including Death's Door, The Shab al-Hiri Roach, and Polaris. However, it features some personal system spins in the form of many ethics-relevant options along the way (binary attributes and ending-conditions) and the unknown "how far will we go with this" element of the rattiness, which you can think of as a dial that is worked during play. It takes about an hour and a half, or a bit longer, with a pretty quick start-off.

I think the playtesting across a couple of different groups really nailed everything into place, most significantly what was kept loose and variable for play itself to establish. That's a big issue for me lately, in play and design.

How can I say this next thing politely? I can't. I just want you all to buy the game, no bones about it. So, the book's being shipped to IPR even as we speak, and it costs $15.00. I am lame and have not created a webpage for it yet, and might need a little help with that, actually. So if you want it, don't wait for me to get my act together, but check out IPR over the next week or so. People who buy the book can also get authorized to download the original 24-hour version, and I think the difference between the two very clearly illustrates the direct impact of playtesting and critical reflection.

Best, Ron
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Nev the Deranged
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Dave. Yeah, that Dave.


« Reply #1 on: April 10, 2006, 04:29:30 PM »


 Toby and Kesty may or may not have been actual wererats... but Simon was without question a rat-bastard. I hope one of them ate him.

 I am definitely picking this one up... damn you, Ron, for making me spend more money.
 
 One thing I'm digging as the indie rpgs stretch the definitions of the genre more and more, is games that are structured enough that I have a better chance to get my regular board-game-obsessed game night folks interested in something that, while maybe not having an actual board, has enough of a "psychic board" via the SIS to do the trick. Mutual Decision is a good example of that, given its chapter breakdowns, shared character sheet, jointly controlled dice pools, teams, ease of entry, and short play time. All those things bring it closer to "party game" rather than "rpg" status... in fact I'd go so far as to put it firmly in the "party game" category of my spreadsheet-o-games. And it's way easier to get a bunch of adults into a "party game" than a "role playing game".

 So yippee for that.

 Oh, and also? It's damn fun.

 I'll point Juli at this thread so she can chime in if she wants.

 D. (1/5 of Kesty)
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tylure
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« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2006, 12:55:19 AM »

Simon definately deserved some kind of nasty ending. Heh.  I was hoping for a death under 'mysterious circumstances' but everything else worked out very well without that.  Maybe there needs to be another game involving Simon and his significant other...

I do enjoy the creativity of the game, and will probably own it soon enough.  It is nice that it has a defined beginning and end, which is why it works well in Dave's party game catagory.  I'll have to introduce it (and a couple of other things I discovered last weekend) to the people I used to game with in Missouri, none of whom were able to make it up to Chicago for the gathering.

Also, it was an interesting way to meet new people.  I'd not met anyone in the group except Dave before that evening.  Actually, this is my first post ever here. 

I'd also like to say that Kelli was very fun to work with as the other half of Tobias.  She had a lot of really great ideas.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2006, 06:10:21 AM »

Hi Juli, and welcome to the Forge!

I could definitely see a follow-up game about Simon. It would make so much sense for him to have been a were-rat, as Toby's ratly experiences could be seen as him fighting off the infection ...

One thing I'm experiencing with this game is that there doesn't seem to be any drawn-out buy-in time, in making the characters. In this way, it's probably a little more like Bacchanal, and a little (very little) bit less like Death's Door and Breaking the Ice.

For my part, I found that a kind of "go!" signal went off in my head right when we put the friends and family onto the shared sheet, especially Kesty's mom. Juli, what was your experience of that? Was there a specific point after which you basically felt, "yeah, we can do this," and "yeah, I'm into this," despite the facts that no none but me knew the game and hardly any of us knew one another?

Best, Ron
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Kesher
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« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2006, 05:56:48 PM »

Howdy.

I was sitting on the edge (of my seat, really) watching this game unfold (five guys seemed like enough to play one woman...)  I think it speaks well of the game itself, as well as the buy-in of the participants, that I was completely hooked.  I laughed, I groaned, I clutched my head, old memories belched up from hidden places, etc.

Quote from: Ron
To understand what happened among our group, you must realize that although we gave off a few rueful or recognition-based snorts or smiles, this was not a gross-out or parodic moment at all. This was the first conflict in which everyone felt truly sympathetic to both characters - neither one wanted to be a bad person, and Kesty fought against being Stubborn and Tobias against being Needy. It was also important that everyone playing was over a certain age and frankly, all of us had long ago come to the knowledge that agreements about this particular act are a matter of some importance in the sex-life of a couple. This whole situation, in play among us, had nothing to do with someone trying to make the scene pornographic ... it was the opposite, emotionally. It brought us all together on the basis of shared private experience, without any of us having to disclose anything specific.

It was one of the gentlest moments of unification I've experienced in role-playing. Again, with a little hilarity at some points, but very sympathetically - when Tobias had to make a staggering run to the bathroom, we laughed but not in release or separation, more like "oh, geez" laughter. After that scene, we were not just a bunch of people individually trying out a new game, we were a team engaged in pure and simple interconnection and creation, at a level that relied wholly on trust that we were going to be honest. I just went back and re-read the Bacchus owns me thread, and yes, that's what I'm talking about too, now.

Yes.  And yes again.  Scenes like this are, I imagine, going to consistently be one of the major strengths of the game.  The system showed the importance even of carefully chosen words like "Needy" and "Stubborn" as the core of relationships that are going to end (and, of course, as a component of every human relationship.)  All the people playing and the several of us watching as well were completely engaged, easily as much as we would be watching a featured couple in an all-too-familiar moment on a favorite t.v. show or movie.

Quote from: Ron
I could definitely see a follow-up game about Simon. It would make so much sense for him to have been a were-rat, as Toby's ratly experiences could be seen as him fighting off the infection ...

This would be an interesting way to play the game as something other than a one-shot, party-gamish thing.  After every relationship ends, pick one of the supporting characters who was featured and create their doomed relationship...  And if the were-rat thing kept building, it'd get all Jarmusch n' stuff...

I'm totally going to try this game with my wife and another married couple we know (of whom also, only the guy is into rpgs.)  Both wives would play it in an instant, and I can only imagine the conversations that will happen afterward.

What a way to start the weekend!

Oh yeah, my favorite moment:  Kelli says to Juli, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"  Juli responds, "I don't know, what are you thinking?"  (lean heads, whisper whisper; couldn't a' been more than, like, two words.)  Juli: "Yeah!"  And they slapped one down on the guys.  Beautiful!

Aaron
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tylure
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« Reply #5 on: April 13, 2006, 11:50:20 AM »

Hi Juli, and welcome to the Forge!

I could definitely see a follow-up game about Simon. It would make so much sense for him to have been a were-rat, as Toby's ratly experiences could be seen as him fighting off the infection ...

One thing I'm experiencing with this game is that there doesn't seem to be any drawn-out buy-in time, in making the characters. In this way, it's probably a little more like Bacchanal, and a little (very little) bit less like Death's Door and Breaking the Ice.

For my part, I found that a kind of "go!" signal went off in my head right when we put the friends and family onto the shared sheet, especially Kesty's mom. Juli, what was your experience of that? Was there a specific point after which you basically felt, "yeah, we can do this," and "yeah, I'm into this," despite the facts that no none but me knew the game and hardly any of us knew one another?

Best, Ron

Thank you!

The thing with relationships (and thusly games about them) is someone can mention something like 'mother-in-law' or 'best friend from college' and things immediately spring to someone's mind.  Preconceived notions, personal experiences, friends' experiences, books, movies...there's a lot of material to draw from (and not just from romantic relationships).  And since everyone's life has its differences, a lot of varied material can be brought to the table.  That is probably why the loose structure for creating the scenario of the relationship works so well.  Not a lot of detail is needed because there's already a pool of knowledge from which to draw, and it's really fun to watch things pop up and directions change as new stuff is added in during play.

That weekend was the first time I'd played games that didn't have super-involved creation at the start, but allowed for in-game character creation.  And quite frankly, the experience impressed me.  I like it.  A lot.

The 'yeah, we can do this' feeling was actually from the start, probably because relationships is a subject everyone is familiar with and because everyone seemed excited to play the game.  The other players' attitudes can make quite a difference.

The 'yeah, I am into this' feeling was probably a couple of scenes in, anticipating what the guys were going to pitch into the frey next.  I was looking forward to (well, anxiously awaiting is more like it) seeing what they came up with and thinking of ways to work with the problem.  And already having ideas run through my head as to what Kelli and I could work on next.

Relationships can be such a heavy issue.  I think the were-rats added just enough humor to make it much less serious and easier to play with a group of strangers.

- Juli
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: April 13, 2006, 02:43:52 PM »

Awesome! From the introduction text ...

Quote
In the story being created, the romantic breakup is inevitable. It includes an unknown fantastic-horror issue, establishing which principal character is a monstrous were-rat, or possibly whether both are. Although that has its gruesome aspects, it serves as a softener or buffer concerning the actual dramatic issue. The actual dramatic issue lies in establishing whether either or both of these people is any good as a human being, and whether a romantic breakup is necessarily a tragedy.

From near the end of the text ...

Quote
The game carries plenty of potential for the characters to become inhuman to one another as they grapple with the process. The whole “rat” thing is included to soften the actual pain of dealing with our own memories and interactions as we go, through adding an element of stereotypical, cinematic horror.

Yay! It worked! Thanks again for posting, Juli.

Best, Ron

P.S. Oh, and as for you weenies who clutched at yourselves in shock when I first started talking about rules based on player gender, you can all go soak your heads now.

P.P.S. That felt good.
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Nev the Deranged
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Dave. Yeah, that Dave.


« Reply #7 on: April 16, 2006, 10:49:19 AM »


 I have to say that despite playing 1/5 of Kesty, I still identified more with Toby's scenes. I don't have any trouble playing female characters, although when I do that it's usually online. Not to hide my identity, just because it's harder to put myself in a female role when I'm interacting through my male body, whereas when I'm online, I don't have to actually interact with anyone physically.

 Which segues (sort of) into a comment about homoeroticism in play (this was touched on in some Bacchanal threads as well as this one). Someone (Ron?) asked if homosexual encounters were more common than hetero ones in games that deal with sexuality. I was thinking about that, and it was pretty obvious to me, based on my own reactions to the concept, why that might be. Which is simply that among hetero people, portraying homosexuality is safer because it carries less risk of heightening meatspace sexual tension with the opposite-sex players in the room. Maybe that's obvious to everyone, I don't know. Also, as a hetero guy, I think I would feel less uncomfortable describing homoerotic acts because I wouldn't feel like I was being judged on them the way I might feel I would be when describing hetero acts. Which is all tied in with my first point. Because even if I'm not actually interested in any of the women I'm playing with, that pure, biological tension is still there. So if I'm describing acts that could actually take place between myself and other people in the room... okay, technically homoerotic acts could take place, but they aren't going to because I don't swing that way, which allows me to psychologically disconnect myself from them, which I can't do (as easily) with hetero acts... so as I was saying, when describing hetero acts, there is always going to be that part of me, however tiny, that is wondering if the women in the room are judging me on my performance, so to speak.

 Which is slightly absurd, since they can judge me on the homosexual stuff just as easily if they want. But my biology and psychology aren't attuned to that vector, so it doesn't trigger as much uncomfity. Describing homoerotic acts doesn't "feel" as threatening to me, not the least of which because there's no fear of betraying any latent (or blatant for that matter) desires toward other players, nor of having such desires inferred by other players, mistakenly or not.

 Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, when playing online with strangers, none of this matters. I can play any combination of genders and preferences to any degree of explicitness without triggering any of that stuff.


 Now, that's just my 2c worth, from my own perspective. Some might go "yeah, duh, obviously", while others might have a completely different take on it *shrug*

 I picked up some black dice today, though, and am planning on taking a dry-erase board and making a permanent "relationship sheet" to better facilitate getting board-game-oriented folks to buy in.
 
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tylure
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« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2006, 02:24:13 PM »

Which is slightly absurd, since they can judge me on the homosexual stuff just as easily if they want. But my biology and psychology aren't attuned to that vector, so it doesn't trigger as much uncomfity. Describing homoerotic acts doesn't "feel" as threatening to me, not the least of which because there's no fear of betraying any latent (or blatant for that matter) desires toward other players, nor of having such desires inferred by other players, mistakenly or not.

Ahh...seems common that people make assumptions about your secret interests in other people based on your characters' actions.  I've had to explain disinterest in players with whom my characters had relationships.  "Yes, my character likes his, but I have no attraction to him whatsoever."   I can distance myself whether I am playing in person or on line equally as well.  But that's me.  I still get into characters and events and the game itself, but I make no inferences any more than what I would with a really good book.

I've not played many games that deal with sexuality on center stage, though.  Most relationships between characters were just things that happened during roleplay (nothing explicit), just for color.  I had one GM who liked to force people into relationships, so my sister and I threw her a curve once.  I created a lesbian character who was pining away for her obviously hetero character.  That was interesting.  And probably the closest I've managed to making sexuality an issue in a game.  Perhaps it would be different if I were to play something like Baccanal.

Maybe part of the hetero- versus homoeroticism in games is because going the homoeroticism route is totally fiction for some of the people who play.  It's a game, so there is appeal to being something you aren't.  And it's a bit risque, which is fun.  It's also easy in a way because you know what works for you, so it's easy to apply that to what your character does with another character.  Though I think it goes to show that a lot of people who do play these types of games are both open-minded and comfortable with their own sexuality, which makes it easier to switch roles like that.

I picked up some black dice today, though, and am planning on taking a dry-erase board and making a permanent "relationship sheet" to better facilitate getting board-game-oriented folks to buy in.

The dry erase board sounds like a really good idea.
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